Sunday, November 09, 2014

Game 1 Anand Carlsen WCM Sochi 2014

Game one of the Sochi match was a roller-coaster draw. The advantage swung in both directions and  at some stage, one or the other player would have been entitled to feel optimistic about their chances. If every game of the match is as high-tension as this one, the fans will have plenty to cheer for.

One of the paradoxes of chess is the fact that an apparently timid opening strategy can actually be aggressive in its long-term intent. The problem with outright aggression is that it sometimes rebounds with the aggressor facing a direct counter-attack, or seeing pieces exchanged off until nothing is left.  A  quiet opening variation can however retain tension for a long period.

The late great Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian was one of those who turned "timidity" into an art-form.  He would often play wimpish opening systems just to avoid sharp lines in the opening.

His pet variations with black included the Caro Kann Defence (1. e4 c6, a defence with a notoriously drawish rep), and the 3.--Be7 system of the Queen's Gambit Declined (black avoids the standard 4. Bg5 pin after 1.d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Be7). As white, TVP often played a3 to avoid the NimzoIndian pin (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. a3 or 3. Nf3 b6 4. a3 ) . He also popularised Bg5 systems against the Kings Indian Defence where white tries to retard black's king-side expansion.

What was surprising at first glance was that those quiet, "timid" Petrosian Systems (there are half-a-dozen "Petrosian Variations/ Systems" in different openings) often turned out to be poisonous. Petrosian's methods avoided the early release of tension and thus, often led to long struggles with extremely nuanced positional factors involved.

Garry Kasparov , who was among the least timid of players, transformed a couple of the Petrosian Systems (the ones against the Nimzo/ Queens Indian) into weapons of mass destruction, exploiting the complexity of piece retention with exact, deep analysis and daring pawn sacrifices on d5.
Insofar as Magnus Carlsen's approach to the opening resembles that of any of the great old-timers, it would be Petrosian. Carlsen's instinct is also to try to postpone struggles to the middle-game. But the world champion's style has inevitably, been influenced by the company he keeps.

Both his official seconds, "the Dane" (Peter Heine Nielsen) and "The Hammer" (Jon Ludvig Hammer)  as he refers to them, have sharp opening styles. So do several of Carlsen's "friends" meaning GMs who he regularly  works with.

Laurent Fressinet,  Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Ian Nepomniachtchi - several members of this group regularly play the razor-sharp Grunfeld Defence (1.d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5). The Grunfeld was also one of Kasparov's favorite defences  and Kasparov mentored Carlsen.  So it  is not surprising that Carlsen has been persuaded to give the Grunfeld an airing.

Anand used to play the Grunfeld himself until he was eviscerated by Topalov in the first game of their World Championship match (  after mixing up the move-order and running into a deadly sacrifice. Anand  also faced the Grunfeld several times in his match against Boris Gelfand where he steadfastly avoided the main lines.

Against Gelfand, Anand  tried a super-sharp line with 3. f3. Since then, Anand has experimented a couple of times with a wolf in sheep clothing Petrosian-type system. He has played 5. Bd2 a couple of times, including once against Hammer. So his response could not have been a surprise to Carlsen.

The Grunfeld  is an extreme example of Hypermodernism. Black cedes the centre, relying on active piece play to counter-attack. White almost always has a big space edge and it is possible to translate that into greater piece mobility and into big attacks. Black usually has the more solid pawn structure. The endgames tend to favour black, assuming white doesn't punch through in the middle games.
 The problem with possessing more space is that a larger army is needed to exploit space or indeed, to defend it.  Military strategists understand this problem well. 

For example, in World War II, Germany invaded the Soviet Union with a force of roughly 3 million defence personnel  (including soldiers, airforce, SS) across a front of roughly 2,000 km.  Three months later, German forces had worked their way to the suburbs of Moscow. But there was fighting across a front of 6,000 km and of course, a large number of casualties had occurred.  The number of German personnel deployed per kilometre had dropped. There were few soldiers to spare to maintain control behind the frontline. Partisans started operating behind the German lines, creating havoc.

In chess terms, in typical Grunfeld positions,  black starts penetrating behind white's frontlines and operating with threats once a few pieces are exchanged.  Potentially, things could have been even worse in this game because Anand accepted a ruined king-side pawn structure to try and impose piece domination in the early middle game. 

The quiet 5.Bd2 shores up the white centre by putting the Bishop on c3 and challenging the long black diagonal. Black's position can lose cohesion if the Bg7 disappears.  There is always a chance that white will blast lines open with h4-h5 or f4-f5. Or Black is forced into ugly stuff like f6 or f5.

 A comment by Teimour Radjabov threw an interesting sidelight on white's 13th  move. Anand castled queenside, leaving his f3 pawn hanging (it couldn't be taken). Radjabov, who is of course, one of the strongest players in the world, wondered whether Anand had mixed up his move order again, as he had done so disastrously in Sofia. In the press conference later, Anand admitted that he hadn't mixed it up.

It was an absolutely unbalanced position with opposite sides castling. White had space and a big centre with his bishop cutting the board in half and his queen pinning down the f6 pawn. Black could only move pieces from kingside to queen side (and vice-versa) via e8. On the other hand, black had a compact pawn structure and a knight that was controlling important squares.

The engines said white was a little better. The humans agreed. The point is, in this sort of imbalanced position, "a little better" can turn into a crushing win very quickly.

Carlsen spent a lot of time but he found an excellent defence by using the dark squares. On move 19, Carlsen offered the exchange of queens. Anand refused to exchange (which may have been a mistake) but from there on, the tide was turning. Carlsen's strengths came to the fore as Black's position solidified and the threat of being strangled receded. 

After 19. Qb6

White focussed on holding onto e6, over-protecting the key square with two pawns, and rook. This was probably correct since it ensured his pieces stayed active and he kept some pressure on the e7 pawn.  He recaptured with peices on e6 and found a tactical shot (28. d6) to dissolve the centre. After 28.d6, it looked as though the position was burning out. White had eliminated  some of his pawn weaknesses and kept his queen and rook active.

Against anybody but Carlsen, it would have been safe to relax at that stage and play a few "nothing", non-committal  moves to reach the time-control. Against Carlsen, it was close to fatal.  Black suddenly  found the a-pawn push, which cramped the white king dangerously.

Black can play 42.--Re3! with winning chances after 43. Rd7+ Kf8 44. Rxb7 Rb3 45. Rxb3 axb3+ 46. Ka1 Qxh2
One of the problems with a heavy piece endgame is that mating attacks can develop out of nowhere. Another problem is that long-range pieces  like queen and rook can hit targets on both sides of the board easily.  So white suddenly had the problem of defending against a potential mating attack on the queenside and ensuring he didn't lose his weak kingside pawns at the same time.

Anand found a series of geometric motifs,  pulling his rook to b4 and his queen onto the long white diagonal from h1.  The rook guarded b3 and hit b7 while the queen created threats of penetrating anywhere along the diagonal while also preventing checks on the a2-g8 diagonal. That proved to be just enough to hold the game by perpetual check.
White played Qh1!!
Both players appeared to be visibly annoyed with themselves at the press conference. Anand was berating himself for the carelessness that led to his being forced to defend at all. Carlsen was probably annoyed at not successfully converting an advantage to a win after defending so well. Both players also looked visibly tired in the absence of the emotional lift from a win.  

It's tempting but dangerous to extrapolate too much from one game. However, it seems Anand will look to create chaotic, unbalanced positions with White and Carlsen may just be inclined to meet him halfway if he plays the Grunfeld again.  What will Carlsen try with white?  We'll get an inkling in Game 2.

Anand - Carlsen  [D85]
WCM 2014 Game 1, 09.11.2014

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bd2 Bg7 6.e4 Nxc3 7.Bxc3 0–0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Nf3 Bg4 10.d5 Bxf3 11.Bxg7 Kxg7 12.gxf3 Ne5 13.0–0–0 c6 14.Qc3 f6 15.Bh3 cxd5 16.exd5 Nf7 17.f4 Qd6 18.Qd4 Rad8 19.Be6 Qb6 20.Qd2 Rd6 21.Rhe1 Nd8 22.f5 Nxe6 23.Rxe6 Qc7+ 24.Kb1 Rc8 25.Rde1 Rxe6 26.Rxe6 Rd8 27.Qe3 Rd7 28.d6 exd6 29.Qd4 Rf7 30.fxg6 hxg6 31.Rxd6 a6 32.a3 Qa5 33.f4 Qh5 34.Qd2 Qc5 35.Rd5 Qc4 36.Rd7 Qc6 37.Rd6 Qe4+ 38.Ka2 Re7 39.Qc1 a5 40.Qf1 a4 41.Rd1 Qc2 42.Rd4 Re2 [42...Re3 43.Rd7+ Kf8 44.Rxb7 Rb3 45.Rxb3 axb3+ 46.Ka1 Qxh2]
43.Rb4 [43.Rd7+ Kf8 44.Rxb7 Qc4+ 45.Ka1 Qe6] 43...b5 44.Qh1 Re7 45.Qd5 Re1 46.Qd7+ Kh6 47.Qh3+ Kg7 48.Qd7+


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